I was steam locomotive driver on the 'Santa Specials' at Peak Rail on Saturday 10th December 2011. The schedule called for four round trips from Rowsley to Matlock Riverside with a maximum-length 7-coach train. The working was to be top-and-tailed with a steam locomotive at the south end and a main-line diesel electric at the north end.
Peak Rail stalwart 68013 is currently undergoing boiler work so 'Lord Phil' was originally planned to perform the steam diagram. Unfortunately, 'Lord Phil' has recently been 'stopped' for attention to the axleboxes. Fortunately, at short notice, Peak Rail was able to hire another 'Austerity' tank - 'Sapper' from the East Lancashire Railway.
I'd not worked on 'Sapper' before and it's always interesting to have a different locomotive. Even though all 'Austerity' tank locomotives share the same basic layout, there's considerable variation in detail between different restored locomotives. I quickly formed the impression that the locomotive had received a competent and thoughtful restoration and I was not disappointed.
'Sapper' was 'brewing up' on the outside pit and Dave (Fireman) and the Cleaner had matters well in hand when I arrived (a little late because of a road traffic accident on the A6). I completed the 'oiling round' and daily examination then we moved the engine to the siding alongside the shed so that Chris could use the Bucket Loader to top-up the bunker with coal. 'Sapper' is provided with coal rails on the bunker so we were able to take a generous tonnage.
At the scheduled time of ten o'clock, we moved the engine across to the 7-coach train standing in the platform. Since the first departure was scheduled for 10:45, I was a little concerned that we'd seen no sign of a diesel locomotive crew, let alone any sign of the rostered locomotive, 'Penyghent', being drawn out of the shed for starting. I warned the fireman to be prepared to work the first train unaided.
We started to warm the coaches and we were delighted to find that we could set the carriage heating steam pressure to the specified 30 p.s.i. and it stayed as set. Since industrial locomotives didn't originally have carriage warming facilities, this facility is added during restoration and inappropriate control valves are sometimes employed, resulting in difficulties controlling the output.
Industrials also lacked vacuum brakes originally so, again, a variety of approaches may be found when this feature has been added. 'Sapper' retained the original arrangement of a steam brake valve mounted on the fireman's side, with a horizontal shaft across the cab with handles for applying the brake within reach of both fireman and driver. A 'Davies and Metcalfe' ejector had then been added in front of the driver for creating and applying the vacuum brake on the train but this is not a 'Combination' brake as would normally be fitted to passenger engines with steam brakes on the engine. In a 'Combination' brake, application of the vacuum brake will automatically proportionately apply the steam brake to the locomotive. Since 'Sapper' lacks this refinement, it may be advisable for the driver, when stopping a train with the vacuum brake, to also make a steam brake application to prevent the locomotive from 'bouncing' against the train as it comes to rest.
I decided to assume that we were 'going on our own' and I carried out a functional vacuum brake test on the 7-coach train. First, 21 in/Hg of vacuum is created in the train pipe which should ensure that all train brakes are off. This vacuum is destroyed and the length of the train is inspected, ensuring that all brake blocks are 'on' (or, rather, that all brake blocks on the non-platform side of the train are 'on'). If this is satisfactory, vacuum is re-created and the whole train is inspected again to ensure that all brake blocks are now 'off' and clear of the wheel tyres, with the exception of the Guard's Brake composite coach, where the Guard's Handbrake will keep the brakes applied. In this case, correct operation of the vacuum system can be determined by ensuring the the piston in each brake cylinder is 'up' when the vacuum brake is applied and 'down' when the vacuum brake is released.
While all this was going on, the locomotive had been feeding steam for carriage warming. It takes a while for this steam to work its way through the train and the cleaner had opened the steam heating shut-off cock on the rear coach to assist the process. Eventually, clouds of steam vented from the the steam heating hose on the rear coach, indicating that steam was passing throughout the train. I was intending to shut the open cock on my second walk testing the brakes, but the Guard just beat me to it.
We heard that the diesel crew had failed to start 'Penyghent' because of battery problems and that an attempt was being made to start the Class 31. We were asked to take the first departure on our own, which we were happy to do, since the destination was Matlock Riverside (where we could run round our train for the return journey), not Matlock Town. For the Santa trains, only Rowsley station is used by passengers and seats are pre-booked for a round trip.
On receipt of the Guard's 'Rightaway', we set off with our seven coaches. 'Austerity' tanks are powerful locomotives so a trailing load of around 250 tons barely taxes the engine which can be worked quite lightly. Church Lane's Up Home signal was already off as we approached and we surrendered the Church Lane-Rowsley single line staff to the 'Bobby' as we passed the box. Soon, we were braking for our booked stop at Darley Dale.
The crossing gates opened, the bracket signal came 'off', the Guard gave the green flag and we were off again, collecting the Darley Dale-Matlock single line staff from Signalman Jack Hinks as we passed. Our progress to Matlock Riverside was quite restrained - there's currently a ten miles an hour 'slack' (speed restriction) most of the way. Although there was some snow on the hills, the valley we were running in was free of snow. The sun was out and it was a pleasant day, apart from the bitter wind blowing straight into the cab on the driver's side.
We made a gentle approach to Matlock Riverside where there's a temporary speed restriction of 5 m.p.h. whilst the re-signalling work is in progress. We came to a stand fairly well along the patform - there's not much margin for error at Matlock Riverside when running round seven coaches but we had no problem and were soon 'tied-on' to the train for our bunker-first run back to Rowsley.
The trip back to Darley Dale was uneventful and I intentionally stopped with the leading coach clear of the platform. Six coaches will fit in the platform but longer trains need to stop further forward to avoid complaints that the rear of the train is still occupying the track circuit protecting the facing points.
We headed back to Rowsley still unaware of whether the 'Class 31' would be ready to join us. As we approached the station, we could see the '31' in the headshunt, beyond the 'END OF SINGLE LINE' board. We uncoupled from our train and, having confirmed that the diesel would stay where it was until we were clear, dropped forward clear of the loop handpoints and run round the stock.
The remaining three round trips of the day were 'top-and-tailed', as originally intended but with the '31' substituting for 'Penyghent'. We lit the paraffin engine lamps for the last trip - it was already getting dark. We carried two white lights, one above each buffer, on our way to Matlock (signifying an express). To return, I removed one white lamp and inserted the red shade in the other so that we were carrying the required tail lamp.
Every train was filled to capacity during the day. Commercially, the 'Santa Specials' are very important to most preserved railways. But I hope people find them good fun as well - I do.